This commentary was contributed by Rider McDowell, creator of the Betabel Road Project. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
The McDowell Charity Trust was notified May 18 by scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys that a research project they helped fund has led to a major breakthrough in treating the form of brain cancer that killed the McDowell’s son Errol in 2018. The type of cancer, medulloblastoma, is the most common type of cancerous brain tumor in children. It is highly malignant and affects 300-400 kids a year.
“Twenty-three months after Errol’s death from medulloblastoma, research funded in a significant part by the McDowell Charity Trust (and Errol’s charity Canceragogo) has led to a promising new treatment for this terrible disease and a drug that may help the body’s immune system recognize and kill cancer cells. Errol can look down with pride. His life will make a difference to the thousands of children who will contract this disease over time. As a scientist who has dedicated his career to fighting medulloblastoma, I’m so grateful to the McDowell Family for their selfless devotion to this cause. This is living proof of the value of community and community oriented projects, like the Betabel Road project, and their potential role in advancing cancer therapies,” wrote Robert Wechsler-Reya, PH.D., senior author of the paper, professor, research scientist and director of the tumor initiation and maintenance program at Sanford Burnham Prebys in La Jolla, California.
“This is an amazing development in the fight to cure pediatric cancer,” said Rider and Victoria McDowell, creators of the charity trust that bears their name. “But bittersweet. We were so close to curing our beautiful Errol. So close. Hopefully this breakthrough will now save other boys and girls and prevent their families from the unbearable pain of losing a child to cancer.”
The Betabel Road Project, although opposed by local anti-growth activists, has received growing community support from groups like SBCbrighterFuture.org, and has received over 1,200 signatures of support on its online petition at BetabelProject.com. It promises 75-100 new jobs, over $1 million in county tax revenue, essential services on the highway with no houses or added traffic. All profits would go to pediatric cancer research “to contribute to more potentially curative cancer therapies like the breakthrough announced today by Sanford Burnham Presby,” added the McDowells.
From the news release:
One in four children does not survive medulloblastoma, and tumors with mutations in p53, a protein that stops the growth of tumors, are especially deadly. The standard treatments for the disease are surgery, whole brain and spine radiation, and intensive chemotherapy. Although these aggressive treatments can cure some patients, those who survive often suffer devastating long-term side effects, including intellectual disabilities, hormonal disorders and an increased risk of developing cancer later in life. Scientists have been striving to use immunotherapy, which harnesses an individual’s immune system to destroy the cancer, as a safer and more effective treatment for medulloblastoma.
“I’ve studied medulloblastoma for more than 20 years. I’ve seen many therapies that prolong survival in mice. But this is the first time I have ever seen a therapy essentially melt the tumor away,” said Wechsler-Reya. “We look forward to testing this approach in the clinic and are hopeful that this discovery might be able to save children’s lives.”